Friday, June 29, 2012

Bashing Berman an Exercise in Futiltiy

Since the rumor was first leaked earlier this week and confirmed not long after that, the Internet has been a-Twitter (and more) with some fans, sports media commentators and reliable contrarians complaining about Chris Berman's assignment to cover the second game of the "Monday Night Football" doubleheader Sept. 10 on ESPN.

He'll call the Chargers-Raiders matchup -- his first NFL play-by-play assignment -- with Trent Dilfer as the color commentator.

Because of his bombast, Berman has become a caricature of himself through the years. For example, his work on the mostly made-for-TV home run derby at the All-Star Game always draws criticism and his passion for the NFL invariably comes through on his studio work. Passion should not be confused with perspective, though.

Still, the rants about Berman remain somewhat without perspective as well.

Officials at ESPN have experimented with the on-air assignments for the second game of season-opening "MNF" doubleheader since its inception. Because of its late start, it's typically one of the least-watched NFL games of the season for ESPN, so cross promotion and experimentation have been the typical approach.

Others in the booth have included Mike Greenburg and Mike Golic, part of abundant cross promotion on ESPN Radio for a couple of years, and the on-air team has at times included two members and at times three.

Also, like almost every other NFL game -- or any sporting event on TV -- who's working the game does not drive viewership nearly as much as the importance or quality of the matchup.

So, while Berman might be exactly what certain critics claim -- a "disservice" or "insult" to hard-core football fans and fans of the Chargers and Raiders in particular -- he might be just what that particular 'MNF' game needs. Sure, he can be clownish, loud and unfocused but dozens of other potential play-by-play talents can bring those things to the booth as well.

Berman's presence might amp up interest in the game a little bit, which cannot hurt form the perspective of either ESPN or the league. Plus, the balanced, insightful and opinionated Dilfer should keep the broadcast from going far from football. With ESPN's talent in the directing and producing seats, the broadcast will be of expected quality there as well.

Berman, Dilfer and the production team will get a practice assignment. They'll complete a test run during the Aug. 23 Cardinals-Titans preseason game.

Complaints about Berman just seem to be much ado about nothing. He will work the game, unless he's stricken with some illness or injury before Sept. 10. He will be criticized. And he will (most likely) not impact the number of viewers in any significant manner.

So why should network officials care about the assignment or the criticism? Maybe they're giving Berman a chance he appreciates without it coming in a venue that will hurt the brand much at all.

Really, the worst-case scenario for those who dislike the assignment has to be the "what if" that more people watch the game. If Berman's debut, on a game featuring "the Raiders" (and you can hear him drawing the pronunciation of that game out right now), somehow attracts more viewers, the result might be something critics would really dislike -- another play-by-play assignment for Boomer.

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